Some talk of Alexander's tomb starts to ring hollow
Robert Fisk finds Cairo in a sceptical mood over certain tomb stones as the city warms to the theme: beware of modern Greeks bearing antiquities
Should we have been surprised? Even when Liana Souvaltzi addressed the press on Saturday - Greeks only, for she had no time to talk to Egyptian reporters - there was an air of palpable unease among the Greek diplomats in the Marriott. With eyes glinting,she told the Greek nation: "I have no reservation about whether this is Alexander's tomb," she announced. "But I am speaking to every Greek all over the world. I want every one of you to feel proud, because Greek hands have found this very important monument."
The core of Ms Souvaltzi's political message was swift in arriving. "This is a very difficult time for Greece - therefore I believe that the discovery of the tomb of Alexander the Great will contribute to our good image abroad. We must be proud to be Greeks." At which point, a Greek embassy first secretary shuffled uneasily.
What did this mean? Were FYROM archaeologists - diggers from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - on the trail of Alexander's corpse? Had Ms Souvaltzi beaten them to it? Or was she just pleased that she, and not the Egyptians, possessed the hands which had found the monument? The Cairo press had been a little sceptical about her work, ever since Ms Souvaltzi disclosed that only the appearance of two serpents passing between her feet at the excavation site had persuaded Egyptian workers to help her. The serpents were a sign, she told nonplussed journalists in Siwa last month.
Sitting next to Ms Souvaltzi was her husband, who had translated the stone fragments which she had uncovered at Siwa; there were special thanks to him for his help. It seemed as if history were repeating itself. More than a century ago, Schliemann claimed he had gazed upon the face of Agamemnon and then dressed his wife up in the treasures of Troy. Now Ms Souvaltzi claimed her hands had discovered the tomb of Alexander and gave her husband credit for its identity. According to his translation of one fragment, Ptolemy himself, no less, stated that he carried the corpse of the god-king and master of the known world to Siwa, adding that "it was I who was caring about his secrets, and who was carrying out his wishes".
But the real wishes of Alexander looked ever more secretive at the weekend. Even before they set off to Siwa to survey Ms Souvaltzi's finds, the Greek expedition, led by the Director of Antiquities in Athens, Yannis Tzedakis, noted unhappily that the discoverer would not be travelling with them; she would be too busy talking to antiquities-department officials in Cairo. Ms Souvaltzi, he said, had worked on the Egyptian collection at the Athens Museum and had published a paper on the tomb of Alexander in Cairo three years ago. She says she is funded by her husband and had told Dr Tzedakis that she had found two tablets and part of a third.
On Sunday night Dr Tzedakis and his men returned from Siwa with a brief handwritten statement that made it clear the fragments of stone were Roman rather than Hellenistic and that the Greeks had not seen the eight-pointed Macedonian star which they had hoped to observe. Nor did the fragments make any reference to "poison" - the supposed manner of Alexander's death in 323BC - as press reports had earlier suggested. Although their visit had not been long enough to exhaust the theories about Alexander, Dr Tzedakis said, "the fragments are not Hellenistic. They have nothing to do with the period of Ptolemy I. The inscriptions are very well dated to be post-Augustine, after AD30. There is no Macedonian style to the complex."
The Greek Culture Minister, Thanos Mikroutsikos, confirmed yesterday that fragments presented to an official Greek delegation in Egypt "in no way" proved that the tomb was that of Alexander.
- 2 Porn block in India: hundreds of sexual websites banned, internet outraged
- 4 Dutch King Willem-Alexander declares the end of the welfare state
- 5 Gamers confess the worst things they've done in The Sims
Jackie Chan in second place in Forbes' Highest Paid Actors list after magazine includes actors working outside US movie industry
Malaysia issues arrest warrant for Gordon Brown’s sister-in-law after she publishes stories on leader Najib Razak's financial affairs
Natalia Molchanova: World's most successful free-diver missing and feared dead after disappearing in Mediterranean
Dutch King Willem-Alexander declares the end of the welfare state
Pizza Express protests: these restaurants charge staff for tips paid by card
Is Britain really full up? Are migrants taking our jobs? Leading academic answers the most common anti-immigration claims
Calais Migrant Crisis: Deputy Mayor of Calais labels Cameron's use of 'swarm' as 'racist' and 'ignorant'
Chris Leslie: Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity agenda will harm the poor, says Labour shadow Chancellor
Jeremy Corbyn: Tony Blair could face war crimes trial over 'illegal Iraq invasion'
Landlords renting properties to illegal immigrants to face up to five years in prison
While we fixate on Calais, the Home Office is quietly deporting dozens of migrants on 'ghost flights'
£40000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Become a professional Trader a...
£45000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...
£22000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will s...
£14807 - £15470 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This manufacturer and supplier ...